IRISH LEAGUE: Heatley and Carvill at the double on day to forget for Crusaders

Michael Carvill finished with two goals in Crusaders' 6-1 defeat of Glenavon. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

Michael Carvill finished with two goals in Crusaders' 6-1 defeat of Glenavon. Pic by PressEye Ltd.

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Crusaders signed off the season with six goals on the final day but it provided little cause for cheer as, ultimately, a bid for a third consecutive Premiership crown was settled by events away from Seaview.

Having secured back-to-back titles, the push for a place in history with a league hat-trick ended in defeat due to Linfield’s consistency across the closing stages of the season to chase, close and over-turn the long-term leaders’ position at the top of the table.

Two goals apiece by Paul Heatley and Michael Carvill - plus a Jordan Owens finish and Matthew Snoddy strike - secured a 6-1 success for Crusaders.

Crusaders players appeared in relaxed form during the pre-match warm-up despite the high-stakes ahead - with the mood in the stands one more of hope than expectation.

The back-to-back champions’ final-day drama kicked off from the first whistle with Crusaders on the frontfoot as early openings arrived for Carvill, Gavin Whyte and Owens.

Glenavon handed a first league start at senior level to 19-year-old Robbie Norton - one of three teenagers in the visitors’ starting line-up.

At the other end of the age scale, 39-year-old Kyle Neill was handed the captain’s armband for what could prove his final game in top-flight football following news of the player’s decision to retire this summer from the Danske Bank Premiership.

Crusaders kicked off the scoring with just six minutes on the clock when Carvill collected Whyte’s pass and slotted home with an angled shot.

Declan Caddell curled wide of the target and Owens failed to keep his header below the bar as the Crues pushed on.

The loudest cheer of the afternoon arrived after 14 minutes when news filtered around the home support of Cliftonville breaking the deadlock over Linfield.

Shouts of encouragement from the stands urged Crusaders to cement control of the club’s situation and number two was scored before the half-hour mark as Whyte doubled his tally of assists with clever footwork capped by Heatley’s near-post finish.

Heatley - one of the stars of seasons both past and present - then raced past the Glenavon backline to control an upfield pass with one delightful touch on the run before a measured finish for number three.

Billy Joe Burns’ block on the line prevented young striker Jordan Jenkins from making his mark and the game’s next goal went to Crusaders in the final moments of the first half.

Carvill returned to the dressing room having scored a second goal when another clever touch set him up for a close-range hooked finish.

On Crusaders’ day to forget it proved a day to remember for Norton when he celebrated his first Premiership start by smashing home a superb drive from distance into the top corner.

Owens’ 21st goal of the season increased the advantage then Snoddy marked the final talking point of the season at Seaview and now Crusaders will enter the summer aiming to rebuild and return for future trophy challenges.

CRUSADERS: Sean O’Neill, Billy Joe Burns, Howard Beverland, Andrew Mitchell, Craig McClean, Declan Caddell, Jordan Forsythe, Michael Carvill, Paul Heatley, Gavin Whyte, Jordan Owens. Subs: David Cushley (Heatley, 81), Michael Dougherty, Matthew Snoddy (Caddell, 76), Alan Keane, Mikel Suarez (Owens, 81).

GLENAVON: James Taylor, Kyle Neill, Andy McGrory, Kris Lindsay, Andy Kilmartin, Joel Cooper, Andrew Hall, Caolan Marron, Greg Moorhouse, Jordan Jenkins, Robbie Norton. Subs: Rhys Marshall, Conall Young (Hall, 77), Andy McGrory, James Singleton (Cooper, 77), James Gray (Moorhouse, 32).

Referee: Andrew Davey.